Marley and Me
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Marley and Me

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Paul McCartney once mused in song that people may think there are enough silly love songs but there is a need for them. This idea can very well apply to silly flicks with rambunctious dogs. The ‘Beethoven’ franchise pretty much covered all possible variations so why to the studios continue to make movies like this? One reason may be they do make for a light hearted and generally entertaining movie. There is just something about the crazy antics of a dog that will make an audience laugh. W.C. Fields once noted that he hated to work with either children or animals since they were certain to steal the scene. One of the latest flicks representative of this genre is ‘Marley and Me’. I do admit that when this film was about to hit the theaters the trailers and commercials intrigued by the film. It just looked like the kind of inane fun I was about ready for. The times are tough with the economy in the dumpster and it seems like good news is long gone from the headlines. What is needed is something that can provide a little distraction and a few laughs. This film certainly fits the bill. There are a few serious moments that may require an explanatory chat with younger members of the family I won’t give a spoiler here but if you are unable to watch ‘Old Yella’ without breaking down into uncontrollable tears be warned there are some extremely emotional moments in this film. Many have noticed that over pet pets and their owners start to resemble each other. This film shows how the lives of humans and their pets are intertwined on the most fundamental of levels. Comedy and tragedy are two faces of the same coin of life. In order for us to appreciate the laughter in our lives we have to first get through the hard times. This is the basis of the film here and helps to make it well worth watching. There is a heart to this film that at comes across as a bit melodramatic but usually is underplayed enough to work. The theatrical release was well timed as a Christmas movie when the audience is more conducive to having he strings of their hearts pulled. It made out well that first weekend with a record setting box office. This is also the type of movie that many professional critics seem to feel they are obligated to pan. There is nothing here that extends the art of cinema or will be hailed as controversial or groundbreaking. What is often overlooked in a situation like this is the primary purpose of some movies is to provide a few laughs and help the audience to have an enjoyable time. It that is what you want then you might want to give this film a chance.

The film was based on the novel by the same name recanting the memoirs of journalist and author John Grogan. The book was a best seller for many of the same reasons the films versions works; Grogan provides an honest look and the relationship of man and dog. The dog was one of the first animals to be domesticated and for good reason. Their eagerness to please is beyond any other creature. This bond between man and dog is so ancient and strong that it is the prefect foundation for a heart warming story like this. When a best selling novel is slated to come to the screen it is a formidable task for the script writer that gets the job. In this case the task fell to Scott Frank and Don Roos. Frank has several screenplays to his credit before this one mostly in a far darker vein. His script for ‘The Lookout’ was inspired and gripping. He took a science fiction slant with ‘Minority Report’ and went for dark comedy with ‘Get Shorty’. Roos burst on the independent film scene for directing and writing the dark comedy ‘The Opposite of Sex’. While the credentials for both men are impressive there is really nothing there it indicated they would be able to turn in a family comedy. Well, they did manage to do it. This is a very broad comedy full of a lot of sight gags, slapstick and physical humor. Watching an energetic dog run wild has a liberating effect on the audience. Many of us had a dog in our youthful days and this taps into the child and dog relationship and transpose it into the adult world nicely. At the core of this story is a biography of a man and his dog. It shows the roller coaster ride of life through the eyes of this deep relationship.

David Frankel directed this movie and he had to be a difficult project for him to undertake. Prior to this he directed television, most notably ‘Sex and the City’, ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and ‘Entourage’. On the film side of the business he helmed ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. There is a long way between directing beautiful young women in designer outfits and a small army of dogs but Frankel managed to pull it off very well. Since the film recanted fifteen years in the life of man and dog there was a requirement for some 22 golden labs for the title role. Each puppy or dog had to be trained and accommodations made for their handlers. One of the most time consuming aspects of any movie is the reset; getting the scene back to a starting point for a retake. When most of the scenes in a film are concerned with a dog tearing through a home this can be a tedious procedure. Frankel stood on the line between control and chaos mastering the situation. There is a feel of out of control chaos yet there is no doubt that he was the man in charge.

While the dogs in the film carry the action it is up to the human actors to hold on to the plot. As such it is vital that they be well versed in connecting to the audience. Fortunately the casting director was able to obtain the services of a group of proven stars. The lead human roles fell to Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. They know how to work a situation comedy without forgetting to develop their characters emotionally. Wilson is affable and can connect to the audience in an easy going fashion that is just fun to watch. He has the quality of an every man to him that allows the audience to understand why a man would put up with the high jinx of a silly mutt. While Marely is a partner in crime to Owen’s character John Grogan, Aniston playing his wife Jennifer grounds the proceedings. She is the voice of reason that man and dog constantly challenge. The supporting cast here is excellent. Dane Cook is used to wild comedy and brings energy to his role that is infectious. Adding a touch for the older members of the audience are two veterans of both drama and comedy; Kathleen Turner and Alan Arkin. Both are such seasoned professionals that they cannot help but to do well under any circumstances.

This is a movie that will entertain the whole family. As it is based on a real life man and dog there are elements that too intense for younger viewers but overall the fun factor carries the flick. It is rated PG but in life death happens and that is part of this story so be prepared to have a serious chat with the kids after watching the movie. The more emotional and serious parts of the story are handled with sensitivity and good taste but they are there. I thought this was just another silly dog flick and it is but it is also a lot of fun to watch.

Posted 03/15/09

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